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Research Guides

Chinese Immigrants and Chinese–Australians in NSW

Appendix 3: Glossary of archival terms


There are three different uses of the term 'archives':

  1. Those non-current records that are identified as having enduring value and so are suitable for permanent retention
  2. The place (building/room/storage area) where archival material is kept. Also referred to as a repository
  3. An organisation (or part of an organisation) responsible for the care and control of archival material.

case file

A file that deals with a specific action, event, person, place, project or other subject.


In the Archives' context, the recording of information about records in a standard format. For example, 'NAA: A461, 1953/221' is the standard format for referring to item 1953/221 of series A461.

closed period

As determined by the Archives Act, Commonwealth records are not made available for public access until 30 years has elapsed since the last day of the year in which they were created. For example, records created in 1968 are available after 31 December 1998 (ie from 1 Jan 1999). The period before they are available is referred to as the closed period. See also open period.

finding aid

Any descriptive media created by an archival institution to assist staff and users to find records and the information within records. Basic finding aids include guides (general, repository, subject or topical), inventories or registers, location registers, card catalogues, special lists, shelf and box lists, indexes, calendars, and for electronic records, software documentation. The National Archives' primary finding aids are the RecordSearch and PhotoSearch online databases.


A finding aid describing archival holdings relating to a particular subject, period, geographical area, record format or records created by a particular agency.


An item is the smallest discrete unit that has been incorporated into a recordkeeping system and forms part of a series. An item may be a group of folios fastened together, such as a file, or a single volume, card, map, plan, photograph, film, sound recording, computer tape or other document which exists as a discrete entity.

item list

A list of items within a series compiled for the purpose of control and information. It usually contains such information as item number, item title, item date range and occasionally, item size. It is also referred to as an 'inventory'.

item number

A control symbol allocated by the creator of the record item (eg, file numbers). As far as possible, the control symbol allocated to an item by an agency is retained for archival purposes. In the absence of original control symbols, they may be allocated by the National Archives to enable retrieval.


Obsolete name for a file.

National Archives of Australia

A Commonwealth government organisation established by the Archives Act 1983. Its purpose is to preserve for posterity the most important records created by all Commonwealth government administrations.

open period

As determined by the Archives Act, Commonwealth records are made available for public access after 30 years has elapsed since the last day of the year in which they were created. The open period (ie available for public access) begins on the first day of the calendar year after they reach the age of 30 years. For example, records created in 1967 came into the open period after 31 December 1997 (ie from 1 January 1998). Also referred to as the open access period. See also closed period.


The Archives' online image database.


The right of living people to be secure from the unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, information contained in records and archives of a private or confidential nature about themselves or their immediate family.

public access

The public right to consult records that are in the open period (ie, records more than 30 years old) subject to access examination to identify exempt information.


A measurement of the amount of records. In the National Archives this is a linear measurement expressed as the number of metres of shelving occupied by the records.

reader's ticket

A numbered pass issued to researchers to facilitate access to reading rooms. Researchers' details are linked to this number, thereby making it possible to create an audit trail and see which records are being used by whom. By signing a reader's ticket, the researcher agrees to abide by reading room rules.

reading room

A room or area set aside for the supervised consultation of archives by researchers. In the National Archives there are both public and official reading rooms. Also known as search rooms in other archival institutions.


The Archives' online records database. It contains information about:

  • all record series in the National Archives' custody and Commonwealth records in the custody of the Australian War Memorial
  • the agencies or persons who created or control those series
  • records still in agency custody.

reference copy

A microfilm or other copy of a record or series made for reference use. The reasons for this may be to enable several copies to be available in different locations or to protect the original copy from damage.

reference service

The facilities and services that enable researchers to use the Archives and its records once access to them is approved. This includes assistance in using finding aids and the provision of facilities to view and copy records.

research agent

A person employed to do research on behalf of another, usually for a fee.


A person who consults records held by the archives, usually in a reading room. Also referred to as a 'user'.


A series consists of a group of records that have resulted from the same accumulation or filing process (with the same numerical, alphabetical, chronological or other identifiable sequence) or which have a similar format or information content. Records in a series are usually kept together because they result from the same activity. Series may include files, indexes, magnetic recordings, photographs, films, plans and so on. The series is the basic unit of control used by the National Archives.


The renumbering and intersorting of items into a more recent series or their integration into another agency's recordkeeping system.